In the Market for a New Driveway?

A driveway can say as much about a home as the home itself. Most homeowners don’t give much thought to their driveway, especially if it’s safe, durable and attractive. But a problem driveway can become a homeowner’s nightmare and can affect the appearance and value of the property.

A gravel driveway, for example works well in rural and wooded properties where the home is set back a distance from the road. But even on long, flat road stretches, gravel can easily be washed out by a major downpour. Meanwhile, a steep driveway – regardless of the surface finish – can collect so much ice in winter that your car just never makes it up. Then you have the driveway that feeds into the intersection of two or three streets. No matter how perfect, this driveway is a daily traffic challenge. Finally, there are the driveways of some older homes that are so narrow some cars just can’t squeeze through.

But a driveway is for more than just cars. If you are considering re-doing yours, take time to think about how it will be used. Will your cars be parked in the garage or on the drive? Are your kids going to be shooting hoops on the driveway? Where do you plan to put the snow when you shovel your drive? How long is it? Before deciding when and how to resurface your driveway, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Take measure

Driveways should be as straight and short as possible. The main exception is a driveway on a steep lot: by lengthening the drive, you can reduce the grade. Any grade that exceeds a 12-foot rise in 100 feet (12 per cent) is not ideal. But driveways shouldn’t be totally level either; if you want surface water to drain away from your home, you need a minimum two percent slope.

Check your subsoil

Before deciding on what finish surface you want, consider what’s supporting your driveway. Soils behave differently depending on their composition. Organic soils such as peat, for example, are not very good at holding up anything – especially a driveway supporting heavy vehicles. Clay and silt soils turn to mud easily. Sandy soils are great because they drain well. But soils that blend clay, silt and sand or gravel are also very adequate, if well drained.

If you don’t know what kind of soil you are sitting on, it might be worth getting a soil expert to test it. You can less accurately test the soil yourself by stripping a patch of topsoil and seeing how well the subsoil drains in a heavy rain.

Consider surface options

The four most common driveway finish surfaces are asphalt, concrete, gravel and pavers. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each before deciding which finish surface is best for you.

Asphalt – This is a common material used for driveways. It is fairly inexpensive and durable but definitely not a do-it-yourself project. The asphalt must be placed while still hot from the delivery truck. It is spread in an even layer and compacted with a roller before it cools down.

While durable, asphalt can soften and is easily gouged in hot temperatures. This is actually an advantage in cold temperatures. Because it absorbs the heat, ice and snow melt faster on asphalt than on some other surfaces. Unfortunately, gasoline and motor oil also dissolve on it and spills can leave permanent spots. Materials are often added to the asphalt to create a longer-lasting finish, but this generally increases the cost.

Concrete – Basic concrete slabs can cost about twice as much as asphalt for the same size driveway, but are longer-lasting. Pouring the cement slabs requires a certain degree of expertise and most homeowners should hire a professional to do the job. An alternative to the standard white concrete slab is to expose the aggregate below. This creates a rougher surface which is attractive and provides good traction.

Gravel – Gravel is probably the most inexpensive surface finish for driveways, but can be a lot of work. If you don’t keep runoff from rain and snow away from the driveway, you could find yourself shoveling it back off the street regularly. Also, it’s difficult to keep gravel in place on higher grades. Putting more gravel down is not the solution. Gravel should not be spread more than two inches in depth. The more you put down, the worse it is for traction.

Pavers – The Romans built their roads with packed aggregate and cobblestone pavers for good reason. It kept their feel and wheels dry. This technology works just as well today. Fortunately, we’re no longer limited to just using cobblestones. Interlocking concrete pavers today come in all shapes, colours, sizes, styles and textures. They not only beautify the overall appearance of a home but can last half a century or more when installed correctly. Poured concrete, asphalt and gravel have a much shorter life span.

Because they are time-consuming to install, pavers can be quite expensive, especially if you have a large driveway. But the added value may be well worth the extra cost. Driveway pavers can be coordinated with pavers in other areas such as walkways, patios, pool decks and gardens. They don’t crack with the freeze-thaw cycle in winter, provide excellent traction, resist de-icing salts and any oil or antifreeze that may leak from vehicles.